Going straight …

AKA the Kimberley part 3.

After saying good morning to the Kimberley form of the Grey Butcherbird, an isolated subspecies Cracticus torquatus latens, we headed for the Mt Barnet Roadhouse.

The previous day we had set up the satellite phone and taken advice from our home mechanic regarding the steering. It was suggested that we get the car towed. That’s a 1200km round trip tow. What about the trailer? Or that we pour oil into the empty reservoir and try our luck. The appropriate oil is ATF if that wasn’t available try anything light. I was considering cooking oil as a field expedient, it would have made an interesting story for the blog but Mt Barnet was well stocked with all sorts of oils including ATF. We filled the reservoir and hit the road.

At intervals we refilled the reservoir. Fortunately we had bought quite a lot of ATF because the system had a bloody great hole in it somewhere inaccessible. Driving in a straight line was easy, anything else was not.

Some of the Gibb River Road’s best scenery is in that stretch.

It wasn’t our intention to stay in Derby but we broke the drive to Broome into two stages. It gave me the chance to photograph a sculpture that is carefully arranged to be at its best against the setting sun.

Next morning we did the sights of Derby and headed for Broome.

Derby port


The Kimberley part 2 …

Dragging ourselves away from Parrys Creek it was time for the Gibb River Road. It’s sealed as far as the entrance to El Questro, the famous dude ranch. I understand that the drive in from there comes as a bit of a shock to the dude caravaners but I haven’t tried it. In any case the Gibb will rattle their crockery if they are driving the full length of it.

On this occasion our destination was Mount Barnet and Manning Gorge, about 390km for the day. Once we reached Mt Barnet turning right off the main road the steering felt rather heavy. It’s a popular camp site and dog friendly. We tucked ourselves way down the back where we could enjoy the illusion of bush camping.

We set up camp, had a swim in the waterhole, drank a beer and plucked up the courage to look under the hood. Searching amongst the tightly packed mysteries we located the reservoir for the power steering fluid. It was empty. Bugger.

Early next morning I abandoned Gayle and the dog and hiked the waterfall trail. First you pull yourself across the creek in a tin boat by a rope and pulley arrangement. Then it’s about a 40 minute walk, some of it uphill and rocky underfoot. Your reward is an amphitheatre into which pours a cascade that thrills the onlooker. Well it would when it’s more than the current trickle. It’s pretty and a nice place for a swim. Most visitors content themselves with that but for the intrepid a scramble down stream leads to a truly beautiful gorge.

It’s a spot where you may see one of the Kimberley’s special birds, the White-quilled Rock Pigeon. Look for them in the shadows and ovehangs.

Petrophassa albipennis

The waterhole back at the camp is also very charming.

The moon is a few days past full now so it rises more than an hour after sunset. This means a good look at the milky way is now available.


The Kimberley part 1 …

We arrived in Halls Creek, Heart of the Kimberley, from the Tanami and headed for Broome, the administrative centre via Wyndham and the Gibb River Road.

I could spend six months here without getting bored and without seeing it all. On this trip we would dash around in under a week.

The Kimberley is huge … 423,517 square kilometres (163,521 sq mi), and has a permanent population in the order of 35,000 (many more in the winter). That’s just 0.8 of a person per square kilometre. Two thirds of those live in the towns of Broome, Derby and Kununurra.

Our first stop was just outside Wyndham at Parrys Creek Farm. This is situated on the margin of a large conservation area. The camp site is by a lagoon and is dog tolerant. We spent three nights here giving me the chance to visit the Marlgu Billabong at dawn and dusk (no dogs here) and for the three of us to visit Wyndham and Kununurra during the day.

The billabong is in the Ord River flood plain and rivals any tropical Australian wetland that I’ve visited. I won’t bore you with lists, let’s just say I cleaned up and the bird numbers were impressive. The site has a short boardwalk to a well situated hide.

Marlgu Billabong from Telegraph Hill
Magpie Geese at dawn
Pied Heron
Australasian Grebe

Poor old Wyndham has a somewhat sad aspect to it. The website Aussie Towns puts it this way …

Wyndham, Western Australia’s most northerly town, sits on the edge of the Cambridge Gulf surrounded by uninviting salt lakes, desert and mudflats which stretch to the horizon.

The town was founded in 1885. It got off to a good start as the gateway port to the Halls Creek gold rush. From 1919 to 1985 there was a meat works in operation. The port still functions serving mining operations.

Wyndham Port from Five Rivers Lookout

There is a Big Crocodile on the outskirt of town (which is adjacent to the opposite outskirt and doubles as the town centre). You could probably find some real ones if you went wading.

The population is less than 700 people. It has a hospital and an excellent cafe called The Croc Cafe.

Wyndham is on a side road that leads no where else and is bypassed by most travelers. Kununurra is right on the highway and on a scenically splendid lake. It  is a stark contrast. There is good shopping and the caravans are inserted with surgical precision at impressive densities in the caravan parks. Give me the quiet of Parry Creek Farm.

Coming across the arid interior of Australia after a brutal summer and a poor wet season the birding was very quiet. Fortunately I’m past peak obsession. At Parrys Creek we had a good dawn chorus at last, you’ve got to love the Blue-winged Kookaburra, poor thing can’t raise a laugh.Add to it a polyphony of White-gaped Honeyeaters and screeching Little Corellas … you won’t be sleeping in.

There is opportunity to get close up to some beauties …

Yellow Oriole
Rainbow Bee-eater

And it’s easy to find a subject at sunrise …



Kimberley Wildlife …

Estuearine Crocodile

I hope that it’s obvious to anyone who has read this far into the trip that I get a great deal of pleasure from this sort of travel. But if I had to say what is the most important component of it all I would say the wildlife. And if pressed to be even more specific it would be the birds.

My hope was that I would get a look at the Kimberley Honeyeater, it would have been the only likely chance of a new species for my Ozzie list. It was not to be, I will have to go again. I’m glad to have done the cruise but next time it will be 4WD again, it is far more productive in wildlife encounters … of every sort except hopefully crocodiles.

But before leaving the Kimberley let me share a little more of the flora and fauna that I caught up with.

Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Lesser Crested Tern
Lesser Crested Tern


Native Hibiscus
Native Hibiscus


But the cruise ain’t over yet, we now have to turn the corner and cross Bonaparte Gulf en route to the Tiwi Islands. The gulf, commonly known as Blown Apart Gulf, has an ugly reputation.

Let them eat pheasant …

Kimberley cliffs

The Kimberley cruise was rapidly approaching its end but there was one last splendour to see, the King George Falls. These tumble from the top of 100 meter high cliffs into tidal waters of, neatly enough, the King George River.

King George falls

Not named after that King George who lost America to the unwashed rabble living there but King George V who gave us the house of Windsor. Prior to 1917 the Royal House was called Saxe-Coburg but the activities of his first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was attracting some opprobrium so he changed his name.

As well as taking a zodiac cruise directly under the falling water we also climbed a steep path to the top.

King George Falls

King George River

The catamaran down below was a Seawind 1200 and at that moment I could not imagine a more perfect fit between place and mode of transport. Sit me there and pass me a beer.

Waiting for us just a few metres from the edge of the falls was a very cooperative White-quilled Rock Pigeon …

White-quilled Rock Pigeon

Good King George would doubtless have shot it, having despatched  over a thousand pheasants in six hours on 18 December 1913. Other notable achievements included shooting 21 tigers, 8 rhinoceroses and a bear over 10 days in Nepal, what a guy.



Oranges and Lemons …

Sterna Is.

Not far from Bigge Island was, for me, one of the highlights of the Kimberley trip, Sterna Island. If you click on the photo it will fill your screen and you can try your diagnostic skills. There are three species of Tern to be found. If you find a fourth let me know. The back arrow in your browser brings you back to this page.

Sterna Is.

There were many thousands of breeding pairs of terns. Plus a pair of Peregrines that could have lunch whenever they wanted and one did before our very eyes. A White-bellied Sea Eagle also flew through causing a fair bit of mayhem. But it was mostly about the terns. The Roseate were in peak breeding plumage …

Roseate Terns

The presentation of a fish serves the same purpose as a rose on Valentines day.

Roseate Tern

The next photo shows Crested and Lesser Crested Terns in the one view. To tell them apart just remember the Crested has a bill the colour of Lemon peel, the Lesser Crested has a bill the colour of Orange peel …

Crested & Lesser Crested

Birds just bursting with energy. You have to click on this one …

Never alone



Bigge Island …

Another big day in the Kimberley. May 3rd started out with a boat trip past Crocodile Rock …

Crocodile Rock

to a little cove …

in which, at low tide, there is the entrance to a natural cavern …

Cathedral Cavern

It was a day spent in the vicinity of Bigge Island, not a lot of other people around but a place of significance to people for probably some 65 000 years. Here is a ceremonial ground, a place where initiations and significant cultural activities would have occurred …

Ceremonial Ground

In that one day we were able to see three styles of rock painting. The Wandjina style is a living tradition, the most prominent theme is the Wandjina itself …


… but other dream time figures and animals are also depicted. Hands are popular.


These in-filled kangaroos are beneath an overhang that is not suitable for habitation and may be an example of an older style …


Most intriguing of all though are the Bradshaw figures. Not only are they elegant, they are shrouded in mystery and have an interesting recent history. There existence was made known to the European world by Joseph Bradshaw who discovered them in 1891 whilst searching for a suitable place to run some cattle. He was familiar with the Wandjina style and recognised these figures as something quite different.

He wasn’t carrying a camera and the exact location was hard to record. The pastoral enterprise came to nought and so when he later came to address the Victorian branch of the Royal Geographic Society all had to show was his sketches. His enthusiasm for the fine detail and an aesthetic worthy of ancient Egypt elicited a lukewarm response.

American archaeologist Daniel Sutherland Davidson in a survey of Australian rock art published in 1936 was dismissive, pointing out that Bradshaw’s encounter with this art was brief and lacked any Aboriginal interpretations, his sketches were likely inaccurate and drawn from a Eurocentric bias.

Bradshaw’s discovery didn’t reach the mainstream until the 1950’s. Rediscovery of his original gallery has shown his sketches to be remarkably accurate.

And what of the Aboriginal interpretations? When archeologists began to ask  about the figures they found that the local people did not hold them in high regard, tastes had changed. They have explanations for the origin of the paintings but, unlike Wandjina art, no stories that bring them into the fabric of their lives.

The paintings mostly depict human silhouettes in a dynamic style that suggests running, hunting or dancing. They are often dressed in elaborate head ornamentation and often have tassels or sashes at the waist.

Bradshaw figures

An enormous amount of research has been carried out by amateur archaeologist Grahame Walsh between 1977 and and his death in 2007. But for all that we know little about the people who made these ancient and evocative images and exactly when they were painted.

The Mitchell Falls …

One of the first questions after the helicopter briefing was “Will we all get a window?” Clearly there was a concern that we might not get a good view. The answer, said with a smile, was “No, you don’t all get a window”.

No window, No door!

In fact, you don’t all get a door. If you’re in the back the view is absolutely unimpeded. In the front you get a nice big window.

Mitchell Falls

The ride took us from the beach up to the Mitchell Plateau to where the Mitchell River drops rather splendidly off the edge.

A short walk from the helipad brings you to this view.

Mitchell Falls

And then you get to fly back.

From the helo





Kings and Princes …

In 1820 Phillip Parker King, exploring the Kimberley coast in the good ship Mermaid, came across the mouth of a river. He named it the Prince Regent River after the soon to be King George of Hanover and appropriately enough he named the bay it issues into Hanover Bay. King had been instructed to pay particular attention to any river that might provide a navigable route into the centre of Australia, there was still a strong belief at the time that there might be an inland sea or at least a Mississippi size river to be found. He also needed fresh water.

He recorded in his journal that as his men rowed up the river …

At a distance of 17 miles from St George’s Bank we were surprised by hearing the noise of a fall of water. But distrusting our ears we were not convinced of the fact until an opening in the mangroves exposed to our view a cascade of water 160 feet in breadth falling from a considerable height.

King Cascade

King continued up river until he was satisfied that it didn’t offer access to the inland and collected water on his way back to the Mermaid. The falls are now called the King Cascade.

In fact the river arises not that far away in the Caroline Range. The line of least resistance was a fault line and consequently the Prince Regent River runs a remarkably straight course. The few tributaries that it has, also following fault lines, run in at nice orderly right angles.

It is an idyllic place but do resist the temptation to have a swim at the foot of the falls, estuarine crocodiles are common in the river. In 1987 24-year-old American model Ginger Meadows was taken by a four-metre crocodile at this exact spot. And as we were hearing about this sad event we were watching this guy patrol the water behind the boat …

Crocodylus porosus

You can find some thought provoking information from WA Parks about crocodiles <HERE>.


Raft Point …

If you know the tides well enough you can take a raft from Montgomery Reef and make it to Raft Point. Get it wrong and you will vanish without trace. We took a ship.

Welcome to the traditional home of the Worrorra people.


Two nightjars fought, blood was spilled. The blood of one was a light ochre in colour, the other darker and so today the Worrorra paint mainly with light and dark ochre. They are one of the groups that share the Wandjina tradition. In the dream time the Wandjina travelled the earth, altered its shape, lived, fought their battles and when it was time to die entered caves and left their images on the walls. It is the task of the modern folk to maintain the images.

Uncle Donny

This is Uncle Donny, the current custodian of the tradition, the only person qualified to paint the figures. It his task as well to instruct the younger men and one day he will choose his successor. It will be a great honour for the person chosen, and it will not only be for their painting skills but also their knowledge of the stories attached to each figure.

A Wandjina

As well as the Wandjina figures, always painted without a mouth, there are other dreamtime characters such as the Lightning Man and images of food animals.

Lightning Man


At the back of a nearby beach there is the site of a great Wandjina battle. The losing army was turned to stone and can be seen to this day.

Stone Wandjina

Click on the photo to enjoy it in detail.